Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies, the great ape flick “Kong: Skull Island,” the Shirley MacLaine dramedy “The Last Word” and the animated “Window Horses.”
“The Last Word” is a new dramedy starring Shirley MacLaine as a woman determined to have the last word not only in conversation but also in life.
MacLaine is Harriet. A woman of a certain age, her best days are behind her. Once an advertising mogul, she controls every part of her life from how the gardener trims the hedges to how the cook prepares her eggs. Managing life is one thing but now she wants to control how she will be remembered after she dies.
It’s an uphill battle. “She is a human dark cloud,” says one “friend.” Her priest says she’s a “hateful woman” and when a former employee is asked to say one nice thing about Harriet she says, “If she was dead that would be nice.”
Her cynical search for a legacy leads her to Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried), the obituary writer at the local newspaper. Anne is an aspiring essayist so wracked with insecurity she can’t show her serious work to anyone. As a result she kills time writing about death for the paper.
The assignment is tougher than Anne imagined. “She puts the bitch in obituary,” she grumbles. When she can’t find anyone with anything nice to say about Harriet, let alone sing her praises, the older woman once again takes charge. Thus begins a campaign to lighten up Harriet’s legacy. “You are going to shape my legacy instead of just transcribing it,” Harriet says.
“The Last Word” is an extremely predictable movie. Ten minutes in you know that a.) the two women will bond and b.) at some point they will dance joyfully. In between they will learn from one another and we’ll discover that Harriet was not liked because no one could control her and Anne will find inner strength.
Predictable yes, but still somewhat enjoyable. It’s a pleasure to see MacLaine in a juicy lead role, even if she spends most of the time doling out life lessons. She commands the screen, elevating the grumpy-old-woman role in the process. Seyfried is spunky but underwritten as though she exists simply to give Harriet someone to talk to because no one else will.
“The Last Word” aims to have deep, meaningful things to say about life but never rises above the level of pop psychology and feel-good platitudes.
In this film Eight Mile director Curtis Hansen delves into the troubled relationship of two sisters. Toni Colette plays a repressed lawyer who comforts herself by buying expensive shoes. Her sister, played by Cameron Diaz is a drunken party girl, destined to become, as her sister says, “a middle aged tramp.” The kind of girl who is fun to hang out with, but you wouldn’t necessarily take home to mother. She’s cut adrift from the conventions of a “normal life,” and only surfaces when she needs money, or wants to borrow one of the expensive pairs of shoes. After one particularly nasty sexcapade the Diaz character flees to Florida and the not so open arms of a grandmother who was absent during her formative years.
This is Hansen’s third film following Wonder Boys, LA Confidential and Eight Mile. Each of those films was an exploration of life with surprises that lifted the story beyond the average. The surprise here is that there is no surprise. In Her Shoes is a conventional film buoyed by strong performances by Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine (as the grandmother) but one that plays out exactly as you might expect. I won’t provide spoilers, but in a movie with such a predictable plot there aren’t many spoilers to give.
Dec. 31 is one of the busiest nights of the year in bars and restaurants, which is precisely why I like to stay home. I don’t enjoy the crowds or the inevitable awkward midnight kissing that goes along with New Year’s Eve. But just because I don’t like to whoop it up in public doesn’t mean I don’t celebrate. I prefer to staycation, curling up with the P.M.C. (the Preferred Movie Companion), a bottle of something sparkly and a New Year’s Eve-themed movie.
For a romantic end-of-the-year mood I usually reach for The Apartment and watch Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon fall in love at their office New Year’s Eve party. Or I watch Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant sneak a kiss on Dec. 31, then make a deal to meet six months later on top of the Empire State Building in the soapy An Affair to Remember. But maybe the best mushy NYE scene comes from When Harry Met Sally. On New Year’s Eve (when else?) Harry says to Sally (who else would he say this to?), “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
For Harry, New Year’s Eve was the beginning of the rest of his life but for the ill fated passengers on The Poseidon it was just the opposite. We’ve all had disastrous end of the year parties but none match one of my other favorites, The Poseidon Adventure. Right in the middle of their on-board New Year’s party, a wild wave knocks the ship for a loop, sending 10 passengers on a watery New Year’s trek to safety.
There are dozens of movies filed under “Auld Lang Syne” in my collection, like 200 Cigarettes—set during New Year’s Eve, 1981—and Sleepless in Seattle where Tom Hanks has an imaginary conversation with his late wife. ‘”Here’s to us,” he says, while we wipe a tear or two.
There’s others like Sunset Blvd. and Bridget Jones’s Diary, but perhaps the greatest New Year’s Eve scene happens in The Godfather, Part 2. At a New Year’s Eve party in Havana, at the stroke of midnight, Michael Corleone grabs his brother Fredo, gives him a kiss, and says, “I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart.” Terrified, Fredo disappears, which gives new meaning to “may old acquaintance be forgot…”
“Bernie” is a true crime story that falls into the stranger than fiction category. Based on a true story, the details are so strange, the characters so colorful that it feels ripped from the pen of a Hollywood screenwriter rather than the pages of the Panola County Newspaper.
Jack Black is Bernie Tiede, a portly and courtly Southern funeral director. He is beloved by the folks of the small east Texas town of Carthage for his work with the church, his community involvement and general sunny demeanor. He is particularly loved the little old ladies of the town, many of whom trusted Bernie with their husband’s final … One elderly woman, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), took Bernie under her wing, making him her travel companion and beneficiary of her will. Their relationship confounded many in town. Marjorie was the town shrew, an unpleasant woman who ran the local bank and refused many townspeople loans in their time of need. Soon, despite Bernie’s calming influence the relationship turned sour. “Basically it was like Bernie was her property,” says Bernie’s old boss. Then the unthinkable happened.
To say any more would ruin one of the pleasures of this movie. Director Richard “School of Rock” Linklater lets the strange docu-drama unfold in a leisurely way, through reenactments and talking heads. Broken into sections—Who Is Bernie? Was it Romantic? Was Bernie Gay?—the film provides an interesting portrait of Bernie and the town of Carthage.
Black hands in a nuanced and subdued performance, and Texas native Matthew McConaughey is a live wire as the local DA, Danny Buck, but it is the talking heads that really bring the story alive.
They are the docu part of this docu-drama. Each of them actually knew Bernie, and were supporters of him, even while he was on trial. Their lively colloquialisms—like “There’s more tattoos than teeth on that jury.”—brighten up the movie, helping to create a fully rounded picture of who Bernie was and why he did this terrible thing.